January 5, 2011
The application deadline to apply to enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for 2011 has just been extended from January 7 until January 21, 2011. The extension will provide a few more weeks for farmers and ranchers to consider whether to submit an application at their local USDA office.
While CSP is a continuous sign-up program and producers can apply to enroll at any time of the year, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) which administers the program applies a cut-off date for applications to be considered during a particular fiscal year, in this case, now, January 21 for Fiscal Year 2011.
Last fall, NRCS extended the CSP application deadline from an unrealistic November 1 until January 7, as we previously reported here.
Process and Timeline
The application form, available at the local NRCS office, is a fairly short and simple one. All producers who have submitted the form by January 21 will then have until March 9, 2011 to sit down with their NRCS staff person and fill out the CSP Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT) which will be used to determine program eligibility, environmental benefits ranking, and CSP payment amounts.
NRCS currently expects to complete the ranking process by mid-March, complete on-farm verification visits by late April, and complete conservation plan and contract development by mid- May. The first CSP payments for contracts awarded in this round will be made in October 2011.
Background in Brief
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is a working lands conservation program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and available on a nationwide basis. CSP offers technical and financial assistance to farmers for maintaining high standards of environmental stewardship. Assistance is available for both the maintenance of existing conservation systems and for implementing new conservation activities on land in agricultural production.
Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forest lands and agricultural land under tribal jurisdiction. Cropped woodlands, marshes, land being used for livestock production and other private lands on which resource concerns can be addressed are also eligible. Applicants must demonstrate they have effective control over these lands to be eligible.
NRCS has developed a self screening checklist to help farmers decide if the program is right for them. The check list covers basic applicant and land eligibility issues as well as the stewardship threshold that CSP farmers must meet. It’s a useful first step in deciding whether to apply.
CSP eligibility, ranking and payment levels are pegged to how well a farmer is addressing priority resource concerns on their farm. Priority resource concerns are determined at the state level and can include, for example, soil quality, water quality, wildlife habitat, plant diversity and soil erosion. You can find out the priority resource concerns in your state by visiting your state’s NRCS website and searching for “priority resource concerns.”
New and Continuing CSP Conservation Enhancements and Ranking Points
Earlier this week, NRCS made available to NSAC the full list of conservation enhancements and conservation practices available for the 2011 sign-up. These include 26 regular conservation practices, 82 conservation enhancements that were also offered in 2010, and 20 enhancements available for the first time in 2011. Six enhancements offered in 2010 have been discontinued.
We have posted a list here that lists all the 2011 enhancements and practices, ranked from highest to lowest environmental benefit scores. These are the options available to CSP applicants to adopt to help solve particular resource concerns. The scores are used in the process of ranking proposals for acceptance into the program and also in the process of determining payment levels; the higher the score, the higher the ranking and payment levels.
A similar process is used for determining ranking and payment scores for active management of existing conservation activities on a farm or ranch enrolling in the program. We have not put together a separate list of those, though hope to in the future.
The 2011 CMT information, including revisions to environmental benefit scores and the descriptions of the new enhancements for 2011, have not yet been put online by NRCS. Hopefully that information will be online on the NRCS CSP website by January 21 so farmers and ranchers can have access to it prior to completing the CMT by or before March 9.
We will alert readers to any additional information from NRCS about the current sign-up as the agency makes it available or places it on their website.
Of particular note among the 20 new enhancements for 2011 are several that had strong support from the sustainable agriculture community and that receive fairly high environmental benefit point values. These include on-farm sources (from legumes, manure, composting) for nitrogen needs, ultra high density grazing (sometimes called mob grazing), on-farm composting of farm waste, alley cropping, and intercropping to improve soil quality and biodiversity.
Also among the new enhancements for 2011 are a variety of new forestry and wildlife conservation activities.
Top Ranking Enhancements
The top ranking enhancements for 2011 are, with limited exceptions, very similar to 2010. The top six for this year are, in order, conversion of cropped land to grass-based agriculture, continuous no-till for organic farming systems, continuous cover crops, continuous no-till, extension of riparian forest buffers, and resource-conserving crop rotations.
Top livestock practices include rotation of feeding and supplementation areas, managing access to water bodies and courses, ultra high density grazing, monitoring grazing areas to improve management, and intensive rotational grazing.
Top wildlife and biodiversity enhancements include extension of a wide variety of types of conservation buffers, prairie restoration, restoration of rare and declining habitats, wildlife corridors, renovation of windbreaks and hedgerows, riparian zone enhancement, establishment of pollinator habitat, and patch burning.
Top organic-specific enhancements include continuous no-till for organic systems, IPM for organic systems, transition to organic cropping systems, and transition to organic grazing systems. Many other enhancements apply to organic systems but are not organic-only.
Resource-conserving crop rotations are recognized for their high multiple conservation benefits through special CSP supplemental payments.